JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Make no mistake about it, the premise of Diana Vollmer’s Successful Management Strategies 101 presentation during the last South Eastern Fabricare Association conference was based on profitability.
“How many of you do this just for the fun of it?” she quipped, smiling.
Vollmer is managing director of Methods for Management, an independent small-business consulting firm that specializes in serving the laundry and drycleaning industry. The company also coordinates and facilitates management bureaus in which participating companies freely share information, issues and concerns with fellow cleaners.
“We track a lot of dry cleaners, not only in North America but around the world,” says Vollmer. “We get very detailed reports on the profitability of companies, and that is the basis for which I’m going to give you some numbers.”
She broke her presentation into two parts. The opening related to the “front of the house,” or customer contact, while the finish covered the “back of the house,” or production and strategic management.
Key strategy points for customer contact include:
MASTER THE BASICS
Be on time, and be right, Vollmer says, adding, “Under-promise to your customers and prospects, then over-deliver and shine.” There is a broad opportunity to shine, she adds, because the industry, on average, has left the public with low expectations.
“When you get a complaint, or any kind of feedback, welcome it as a gift,” she says. “Otherwise, if they just vote with their feet, you’ll never know why they left and why they’re not coming back.”
Schedule experienced CSRs at all times, because “filling in weekends and evenings with your least-experienced people is one of the most dangerous things that you can do as a cleaner.”
If you offer the convenience of 24/7 service or accessibility, shout it out. Make your dry cleaner the most convenient in your local market, so your customers never have to think of dry cleaning as being a nuisance errand. If stores are your only business outlet, then you’re limited by the hours they are open; timing is irrelevant where routes are concerned. If you offer 24/7 kiosks or lockers, customers still have to make the trip but can do so on their schedule.
EASY TO DO BUSINESS WITH
Utilizing the Internet and social media and offering route service are examples of making it easy for customers to do business with you. “The real goal here is to deliver the service when, where and how the customer chooses,” Vollmer says.
If American Express isn’t among the credit cards you accept, you should reconsider, she says. That card is “great on customer profiling and targeting very specific customers … American Express customers will spend much more than VISA, MasterCard, Discover, whatever.” Most companies issue AmEx cards to their executives so they don’t have to worry about credit limits when entertaining clients, and these execs then use the card to charge their drycleaning to their company account.
BE SPECIAL, LOOK SPECIAL
Offer special services such as handbag cleaning and custom embroidery to set yourself apart from competitors. Clean-looking stores are doing well, Vollmer says; the closer they look like a retail environment, the more high-level customers they draw. Finally, enhance your packaging to present the best image and visibility while also providing the protection a customer expects with a freshly cleaned garment.
BE MARKETING SAVVY
Whatever your competitive advantages, make sure you broadcast them for maximum effect. While newspaper readership is down, the readers who remain are your drycleaning customers. The cost to run newspaper ads has plummeted, Vollmer says, which presents a perfect opportunity to test a campaign in a specific market. Also, cable TV advertising can be affordable.
Outreach programs such as Dress for Success and Coats for Kids provide a wonderful way for dry cleaners to give back to their community, but they also offer opportunities to network with influential people in their marketplace.
BEST IN YOUR NICHE
All cleaners know about quality, but which can deliver the best price with the fastest speed and the lowest cost? Once a business decides its market niche, it can then determine the appropriate pricing for relative item value while also covering costs.
“I love this quote,” Vollmer says, noting one drawn from Harry Beckwith’s Selling the Invisible: “Setting your price is like setting a screw—a little resistance is a good sign.”
Customers understand that they get what they pay for, and a customer won’t believe that a cleaner can press their $400 Zegna shirt for 99 cents or $1.99. “They don’t want to risk that high-value, high-quality shirt to someone who also doesn’t recognize the high value and high quality,” she says.
EASE OF ACCESS
Drive-thrus appeal to customers seeking the convenience factor, or whose circumstances (having young children, dealing with disability, etc.) make that accessibility a key to their continued patronage. Expansion into new areas of residential growth and proximity to surrounding businesses and institutions also deserve regular scrutiny.
MOST VISIBLE AMONG COMPETITORS
Do you have all of your locations listed on Google Maps? If not, do it immediately, Vollmer says. Leave your store’s or plant’s lights on during off-hours. While most stores tend to turn off their lights at closing time, leaving yours on will increase your visibility and will definitely be worth the electricity bill when considering the exposure you receive.
This applies to everyone who can possibly help you in any way, Vollmer says, such as developing joint ventures with textile retailers and other companies. For example, offering to clean a garment newly purchased from a local boutique could be the start of a long-standing customer relationship.
“They need to look, act and be professional,” Vollmer says. “I can’t stress that enough.”
“The difference between success and failure right now is really proactive sales,” says Vollmer, “and the best sales are consultative, which means that it’s meeting the customer’s needs.” Sell with professionally produced messages, customer care, attractive packaging, novelty displays, and by creating entertainment.
Check back Tuesday for the conclusion, featuring key strategy points for production and strategic management!